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Life Sciences Q3 2021

UK science at forefront of COVID-19 discoveries

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Neelam Petal

Chief Executive Officer, MedCity

The discovery of vaccines, diagnostics and technologies to tackle the pandemic has proven the value of the UK’s life sciences sector on a global stage.

The COVID-19 crisis has had a huge impact on people’s lives, but with high vaccination levels, regular testing and new technologies making remote healthcare possible, we’ve rapidly adapted to this unpredictable new world. One thing we can be sure of is that the UK’s academics, industry and clinicians have never been more at the forefront of society.

Tackling a global crisis together 

The best innovations are often a product of collaboration and at the height of the global emergency, we saw people coming together across the UK to tackle a common goal. Industry and academia forged strong partnerships with AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford’s development of the vaccine. The AI-powered COVID Symptom Study by ZOE with King’s College London had over 4 million contributors globally. Additionally, the i-Sense partnership between UCL, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and many others received Google funding to understand the broader impact of COVID-19 using web search data.

We must keep up this momentum to address future healthcare needs and cement our position as a life sciences superpower.

A new dawn for diagnostics

As London’s life sciences cluster organisation, we responded to the World Health Organization’s request to “test, test, test” by setting up the Testing Alliance made up of London’s academic and healthcare institutions and private laboratories, to create capacity for over 20,000 PCR COVID tests per day. 

The UK has the fifth largest in-vitro diagnostics market in Europe and it informs 70% of all clinical decisions in the NHS, but historically there has been a lack of funding to progress new technologies. The pandemic has shown the innovation that exists in diagnostics and the health data we unlock has proved invaluable for the future of disease management and treatments.

The future of the UK’s life sciences sector 

The UK has long had world-class universities nurturing the next big spin-outs, top global life sciences companies and strengths in areas such as AI and advanced therapies. We have now shown the UK’s value in a global public health crisis by discovering vaccines, diagnostics and technologies. 

According to the BioIndustry Association, this has been a record year for investment into life sciences – with £2.39 billion raised in the year to date compared to £2.81 billion in the whole of 2020 – with deals driven predominantly by overseas investors. This will create more jobs, unleash more scientific opportunities, and make our economy more resilient. We must keep up this momentum to address future healthcare needs and cement our position as a life sciences superpower.

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